Q&A with Livia Blackburne on Neuroscience of Reading and Writing discussion


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message 1: by Livia (new)

Livia Blackburne (lkblackburne) | 28 comments Mod
Hello everyone! Introduce yourself here and tell us a little bit about who you are.

message 2: by Livia (new)

Livia Blackburne (lkblackburne) | 28 comments Mod
I'm totally all about escapism in my fiction too. I find it unfortunate that people sometimes refer to escapist fiction like it's a lower form. It's a valuable skill to be able to transport people to a completely new world.

message 3: by Sharaf (new)

Sharaf (sharafudheens) | 3 comments writing and reading... Both are forms of escapism for many.. And a little to satisfy our creativities...

message 4: by Naomi Ruth (new)

Naomi Ruth (naomiruthwrites) | 3 comments Hello! *waves* I write ya adult (usually fantasy). I like writing about the Real and the Ridiculous, because that's what life is. It's messed up and real and painful, but it's also hilariously ridiculous.

I read like there's no tomorrow because, one day, there won't be a tomorrow. Okay. That sounded more depressing than I meant for it to be.

And I agree: It is Hard Stuff to create a world that's so real people can actually escape there. I get annoyed that genre fiction is generally looked down upon when a lot of time it's written just as well (if not better) than 'Literature.'

message 5: by [deleted user] (new)

Hi, I write SFF (YA, urban fantasy) and read voraciously. :)

So, yes, I am a writer and a reader. Frankly, I find it hard to separate the two roles.

message 6: by Bill (new)

Bill Davis | 4 comments Hi everyone. I have always loved to read (since I was 4 years old). My career has dealt with words: in language learning and language learning consulting, curriculum development and translation (more with words!)

I've always enjoyed writing little satire pieces, funny songs (ala Weird Al lyric swaps), and essays on controversial topics. Now I am writing my first novel, poetry (this shocked me and my wife both), and short stories, while the day job continues.

My reading tastes are pretty eclectic. From Tarzan (and all Edgar Rice Burroughs' books) as a kid, to Ray Bradbury as a teen, to Herman Wouk, William Manchester, John Le Carre, historical fiction, fantasy (Tolkein!), artsy literary fiction, foreign (Russin and Chinese translated into English - I loved Dream of the Red Chamber and Monkey God)... write it well, and I'll read it.

-Bill Davis

message 7: by [deleted user] (new)

Hi Livia and thanks for beginning this discussion. I'm a writer and reader as well, and most recently a former archaeologist. I'm intrigued by the potential for neuroscience to inform writer's choices by better understanding the reading process. In past experiences with speed reading, I became aware of the different ways that the mind is able to process information and yet not be aware of it. Stephen King has called it telepathy but I wonder if there isn't some science that underlies the way in which we're caught up in the fictional world. Has your neuroscience background influenced your writing?

message 8: by Livia (new)

Livia Blackburne (lkblackburne) | 28 comments Mod
Hello everyone! It's great to have such a wide range of tastes and backgrounds.

M.Terry - yes, neuroscience has certainly influenced my writing. I blog about it a lot at http://blog.liviablackburne.com

message 9: by Carlos (new)

Carlos Meza | 2 comments Hi Livia. I am more a reader than a writer. I enjoy reading medical thrillers so I decided to write my first novel based on my own experience as Internist-Allergist-Immunologist. I am a fan of Stephen King's but I don't read everything he writes. I don't miss anything by Vince Flynn and I miss Michael Crichton.

message 10: by Kari J. (new)

Kari J. | 3 comments My name is Kari and I'm a writer/reader/stay-at-home mother of a 4 year old who is autistic. :) I love Stephen King's voice when it comes to reading novels--I get lost in the images--the "movie"--it creates in my head. Currently, as a writer wanting to learn more, I'm going back and rereading his old short stories to get a feel for exactly what he does when he writes that I like so much.

I've got a BS in Physics and Mathematics and left school in the middle of my Master's due to my daughter's diagnosis--and, no, I really have no intentions on going back to finish. Which is ok by me.

Neuroscience is fascinating and I'm eager to learn more about it :) That's why I'm here :)

message 11: by Robin (new)

Robin Mizell (robin_mizell) Hello! I'm Robin Mizell. I work closely with a small group of creative writers. By making use of social networks like Goodreads, I'm better able to advise my clients how they can use and enjoy new media. At the same time, I'm connecting with friends and family who are using social media, so business and pleasure combine.

I'm a lover of poetry and literary fiction, and I'm intrigued by foreign narrative voices.

message 12: by Ann (new)

Ann (amgamble) | 1 comments Hi everyone! I went from a degree in biochemistry to a job in editing (my father was in linguistics, so it didn't seem that far out). I've always loved to read, pretty much anything, and decided and then quit being a writer multiple times. One point of wisdom I've acquired with age is that there's more than one way to do something or be something, so now I'm my kind of writer forever more.

I'm interested in process, linguistics, and aesthetics. I just read somebody who thinks we are hard-wired not just to learn language but for narrative, cause-and-effect structure. Therefore we seek to find order in events, and we find that kind of story satisfying.

message 13: by Livia (new)

Livia Blackburne (lkblackburne) | 28 comments Mod
Carlos – if you like medical thrillers, have you ever read Michael Palmer? I never read his fiction, but I heard him talk at a conference once.

Kari -- some of my colleagues do autism research. It's very complicated and the research is in its infancy, but hopefully we can make some progress.

Robin – any particular foreign authors that you like?

Ann – did you read the narrative escape by Tom Stafford? I really enjoyed that essay

message 14: by Carlos (new)

Carlos Meza | 2 comments Livia wrote: "Carlos – if you like medical thrillers, have you ever read Michael Palmer? I never read his fiction, but I heard him talk at a conference once.

Livia, I actually attended a training program under Michael Palmer and Tess Gerritsen. It was very interesting. I like Michael's writing.

Kari -- some of my colleagues do autism research. It..."

message 15: by Livia (new)

Livia Blackburne (lkblackburne) | 28 comments Mod
Tamara -- I'm all for the enjoyable stuff too :-) Life's too short to read what other people like.

Carlos -- That's really cool. I wish I could have been there. I enjoyed his conference talk, though it was more about his personal publication journey than writing advice.

message 16: by Robin (new)

Robin Mizell (robin_mizell) Livia, two of my clients are my favorite foreign voices. I know that sounds self-serving in spite of the logic. ;) I just discovered that I could become their fan here on Goodreads.

I've enjoyed reading Christian Jungersen, and of course, among others, García Márquez, Bolaño, and Grass. You might wonder whether I should believe that the author's voice comes through when foreign fiction is translated into English. I'm irritated by discrepancies when watching a French film with English subtitles. Something is inevitably lost. However, when I've read correspondence and fiction written in English by multilingual authors, as well as the English translations of their work from other languages, I've "heard" the same voice in all of it.

People have so much experience in common, which language barriers often prevent us from realizing.

message 17: by Bill (new)

Bill Davis | 4 comments Not a medical "thriller" but thrillING in the sense of a book you can't put down and one of the best books I've read in a long time is "Cutting For Stone." We found it in a $1 used book bin in Manila and then realized it was #4 on the NYT Bestseller list and had been for over 50 weeks! 600+ pages and beautiful prose, unforgettable characters, complex plot and relationships, history, culture, setting and a kick of an ending!

message 18: by Livia (new)

Livia Blackburne (lkblackburne) | 28 comments Mod
robin -- Interesting what that says about voice then, if it carries though to translations

Bill - 50 weeks is nothing to sneeze at. I'll have to check it out.

message 19: by Bodie (new)

Bodie Parkhurst (bodiep) | 5 comments Hi, I'm Bodie Parkhurst, and like about everybody here I'm both a reader and a writer. It's hard to categorize what I write; it's got bits of fantasy, bits of horror, lots of realism, more than a little mythology, and lots of humor. I'm also an illustrator and a book designer (I do custom designs for self-publishers as well as book and cover designs for small presses, as well as for my own novels and picture books). That was what sparked my interest in this group. Book design is all about analyzing the potential audience and then designing the book to present the information in the best way for that audience. When I do my job right, people aren't even aware of the book design; the information simply flows seamlessly from the page to the brain.

I look forward to the discussion!


message 20: by Sarah (new)

Sarah (jojardin) | 3 comments Hello everyone--I'm Sarah Schlosser and I'm a warehouse manager by day and reader/writer by night. I write blogs, poetry, dabble in a little short fiction, and journal every day. I tend to read the same, and the books I read tend to be literary fiction, although I will throw some anthropological non-fiction or memoir in there from time to time. This group was suggested to me, but reading all of your summaries is fascinating--the best reason I can present for this group keeping my interest is in the continuing study of why we can't help ourselves but read and write. My favorite author on writing is Natalie Goldberg, but I enjoy so many authors' work on reading and thoughts on books, and get my recommendations from anywhere--radio to Facebook to Twitter to word of mouth.

message 21: by Robin (new)

Robin Mizell (robin_mizell) Hi, Sarah! I'm glad you're here. Your comments remind me of something Chad Post, publisher at Open Letter Books, recently shared on Three Percent, a blog about literature in translation. In a series of posts, he considers how technology changes the way we read, as well as how we acquire books, and he questions whether it will change the way we recommend books and what types of books we'll choose. Following is an excerpt and a link to the blog.

"Which is why I plan on continuing down this line of thought," says Post, "trying to blend together findings from neuroscience and behavioral economics to look at what goes on in the mind of an individual reader, to how that reader chooses what he/she decides to read (selecting a book is not like choosing toothpaste . . . or is it?), to why and where and how books become social, to what this means to the greater culture. Not sure where all of this will lead, but hopefully it’ll provide a better understanding of readers and of how these great cultural shifts in bookselling and publishing are playing themselves out across a number of levels."


Last month, I learned something about myself and my reading choices, as the result of a conversation with someone who works for a large consumer research company that supports the book publishing industry. (I just realized how difficult it is not to use the company's name as shorthand for what it does.) I thought it would be illuminating if there were a way to create a link analysis chart (of the sort commonly used in intelligence analysis) to visualize the spread of a particular title's popularity from person to person. As an example, I cited the wildly popular Stieg Larsson trilogy. As soon as I mentioned the books, our conversation shifted to the books and became noticeably more animated. To be honest, in the middle of the discussion, I was trying to analyze why we went off on a tangent. It seemed to me that we'd suddenly found common ground. We had examined the books for the same reason -- to learn why they were so attractive to readers -- but beyond that, it seemed we felt compelled to tell each other what we thought of the books. Switching to a conversation about the fictional Lisbeth Salander was incredibly easy and enjoyable -- far more so than talking about business or the weather. In that moment, I realized how strongly we're motivated to find that comfortable common ground and how recommending books to other people can create the shared experience that puts people at ease socially.

Now, I've managed to shift the topic from neuroscience to sociology. I hope Livia will pick out the threads relevant to neuroscience and forgive me for digressing. :)

message 22: by Bodie (new)

Bodie Parkhurst (bodiep) | 5 comments Hi Sarah--Welcome! Nice to meet you. I think my favorite writing authorities are Stephen King and Anne Lamotte--how's that for both ends of the spectrum?

Bodie P

message 23: by Sarah (new)

Sarah (jojardin) | 3 comments Robin wrote: "Hi, Sarah! I'm glad you're here. Your comments remind me of something Chad Post, publisher at Open Letter Books, recently shared on Three Percent, a blog about literature in translation. In a serie..."

Ah, Robin, I was just writing about that in this afternoon's journaling work--funny how great minds think alike!

The sociological part of that discussion that I struggle the most with is finding a social setting with those who read, which is why it is such a relief to come to this haven and talk about it. My workdays are not spent with readers--everyone I work with follows reality television, first-run theatre contributions, and hip hop. If I allow my love of literature to seep out in passing, I'm often ridiculed for a lengthy amount of time, even if I am reminded of passages from literature that apply to the situation and great lines to go with them. Stunningly, I have not read the Larson trilogy, although I did try once just to have a better chance of finding a forum to talk to--and couldn't do it. Recommendations are vast and each of us finds something to love in the most disparate of stories, so I can't bring myself to dislike books, but I do find myself wishing that more of the world felt the same, or that they didn't think me a snob because books or certain books inspire me more.

Hence, I'm here, soaking up the love of letters with the rest of this group that can't help themselves either. :)

And Bodie, I too loved Stephen King's "On Writing" and "Bird by Bird" by Ms. Lamott! So nice to hear of others who have such eclectic tastes. :)

message 24: by ZaBeth (new)

ZaBeth  Marsh (zabeth) Hi everyone, I feel so blessed to live in the Internet-generation. I used to have 3 reasons for reading a book to catch my interest:
(1) the front cover
(2) the back cover
(3) the inside jacket

It was mostly controlled by the publishers. If the marketing team for that books was good enough, and the first page of the book was decent, I'd probably buy it only to learn that it was a dud by page 10.

If I was lucky, I would find a local librarian or bookstore clerk who had the same love of reading as me and could recommend a book here and there but mostly it was up to me to hunt and find on my own. But now with Goodreads and other reader sites & blogs I have a world of like-minded individuals who can recommend books to me. I read less and less books that I find a struggle and more and more books that I can't turn the pages fast enough because most of my books have now been vetting through a vast group of readers.

No longer do I feel I'm trapped by the publishers and their marketing people but I'm open to a world of books endorsed by people just like me who have actually read the book.

message 25: by Livia (new)

Livia Blackburne (lkblackburne) | 28 comments Mod
No need to apologize for sociology, Robin. I find it very hard to separate the study of humans in groups from the study of the individual. And I've also had the experience of starting to talk about books and suddenly everybody really gets into the conversation. I tend not to get as invested in conversations about movies or TV shows, but I was never sure if that was just me, or something about the medium.
It's really interesting reading about how people choose their books, and as traditional publishers become less influential, it will be very interesting to see whether social media can function as the new gatekeeper.
It would be absolutely fascinating to see how books move by word-of-mouth. I wonder how good Goodreads is at tracking that. I could see people analyzing Goodreads data just like some research groups analyze Facebook data. Unfortunately, the good reads data doesn't seem to be as rich.

message 26: by Julie (new)

Julie Johnson (juliejohnson) | 2 comments Hi,I'm Julie, a teacher by day, writer by night, and a reader 24/7! It's a bit of a joke in my family that I always have a book on the go. In fact, if I don't, my stress level goes up and I have to find one, quick! I'm always needing something to read, fiction mostly, and a lot of it genre based (sci fi, fantasy, literary, historical, romance, etc. etc.). I tend to love quirky, clever books but I will also read more 'light weight' books. It all depends on the mood I'm in. (Having just read the beautiful but haunting Wicked by Gregory Maguire I am now reading a more lighthearted romance/mystery).

As to choosing books, you raise an interesting point: goodreads and the internet (and the purchase of a Kindle, which makes purchasing books very easy--almost too easy!) has changed my reading choices. I used to either browse the library or a bookstore (always a pure pleasure and still one of my favourite things to do) and either find one that grabbed my eye (title, back blurb, cover being very important to this decision making process--as well as first line and choice of font!), or hunt out one's that had come recommended to me by friends.

But now that I have more 'friends' online, I'm getting even more book recommendations, and with internet searches and direct-to-Kindle downloads, I can find books quickly without even leaving the house. This is a introducing me to so many more great reads and I love how goodreads allows me to keep a 'to read' tracking list so I can always refer back and figure out what my next pick should be.

I agree that it would be interesting to see data on this occurrence. Also as a writer who hopes to one day publish, I'd love to know the impact of social media - word of mouth phenomena on book purchases/publicity. This is a very new venue for writers, independent or otherwise--how does it impact sales/interest? Hard to say! I expect an online presence can't hurt! But I am curious about the data.

Nice to meet everyone! :)

message 27: by Tracy (new)

Tracy Riva (tracyriva) Hi everyone. My name is Tracy and I review books for the Midwest Book Review. Gives me a chance to both read and write, even if the writing is non-fiction. I'm also in the process of revising my first novel, it's much harder than I had anticipated! I'm really glad to be here.

message 28: by Livia (new)

Livia Blackburne (lkblackburne) | 28 comments Mod
Julie -- when I was younger, I would find all my books just by browsing the library bookshelves. When buying books, however, it's the most always by recommendation or from an author I have faith in. I guess, since money is at stake, I'm a little less willing to take risks.
Tracy -- any good recommendations?

message 29: by Tracy (last edited Mar 12, 2011 03:14PM) (new)

Tracy Riva (tracyriva) Hi Livia,

I've reviewed for several really good Goodreads authors, for fantasy I recommend Lorna Suzuki's Imago series; for young adult fantasy I recommend Elizabeth Isaacs Light of Asteria: Kailmeyra's Last Hope, for a mature audience I recommend Melinda Clayton's Appalachian Justice. I've enjoyed every book in Lorna's series so far - I've read and reviewed the first four books. Elizabeth's book was so enjoyable. I'm eagerly awaiting the release of its sequel, and Melinda's novel is so timely and really shows the cost of prejudice against lesbians, as well as the realities of rape and child abuse. It deals with all these subjects in a manner that is honest, and at times shocking, but is tastefully done at the same time. It was a wonderful read and touched my heart.

message 30: by Terry (new)

Terry Gibson (terry_gib99) I'm Terry and on twitter I am @bookmark_terry. Reading and writing mean the world to me! And I always like looking at the psychology of most things.

I was a severely abused child and young woman. If it wasn't for reading, I might not be alive today. My history is only relevant because I was self-hating after the beatings, taunts, and down right humiliation.

Books helped me understand myself, my situation, and eventually, they taught me how to survive. I'll be a reader and writer as long as I live. Of course, I always promote both for children and adults. Both actions can open the world to any of us -- even me when I lived in a little picturesque town under 700 people. The world wasn't very big for me there until I discovered books.

message 31: by Livia (new)

Livia Blackburne (lkblackburne) | 28 comments Mod
John – we're making some headway on intelligence and self, but we still know next to nothing about consciousness.

Terry -- thank you for sharing. It's really inspiring to see how books can bring hope.

message 32: by Leena (new)

Leena Prasad (leenaprasad) | 1 comments Hi,

Looks like this group has been inactive for a while but I'll introduce myself anyway. I came across your book because i write a monthly column in which I explore the inner workings of the brain in the context of a specific activity (hearing music, falling in love, getting hungry, etc.). I reference books, scientific journals, and other written material.

Links to my columns can be found at WhoseBrainIsIt.com.

Leena Prasad

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